Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sandy's Story - for Ada Lovelace Day
Guest Blogger: Annemieke Craig, Deakin University, Australia

As indicated in Barbara’s recent article we would like to celebrate ‘Ada Lovelace Day’ by publishing an article about a woman in technology. Sandy is the IT Manager for the Institute for Technology Research and Innovation at Deakin University in Australia.

To celebrate Ada Lovelace day we present Sandy’s story:

As the youngest of my 3 children approached school age, I began a short IT course to improve my job prospects. One week later, I found I was "unexpectedly expecting" baby number 4. I completed the course and my results were good, including 100% in a database exam 5 days before the birth of my baby, (helping to debunk the myth that pregnancy makes us vague) so I continued on with another certificate, a diploma and graduated with a degree at the ripe old age of 43.

I was only looking to work part time at first and began work straight away as the IT support for a small and friendly group of staff and postgraduate students in the School of Information Systems at Deakin's Geelong and Warrnambool campuses. I was then transferred to the Faculty IT group which had an emphasis on staff training. Then I increased my hours by working at the same time as IT support in the School of Engineering where I had invaluable support and encouragement from my supervisor/mentor in the School. Next I successfully applied for a full time position in the newly formed Centre for Material and Fibre Innovation. When the Centre combined with BioDeakin and Intelligent Systems Research to form the Institute for Technology Research and Innovation, I was promoted to IT Manager of the Institute where I've been for almost a year.

And what a great position this is! Every day is different and they fly by so quickly. I'm responsible for planning and management of IT support and advice, IT systems and administration for rapidly expanding numbers of ongoing and visiting staff and postgraduate students, maintenance of all computers in our labs, design and maintenance of websites, software licensing, management of leasing and purchase of computers and printers. I supervise a very capable IT technician who assists me. We look after the computers in the advanced cad lab, haptics lab, computers attached to a variety of microscopes, including the electron and atomic force microscopes and those attached to large industrial machines and delicate measuring equipment. We work closely with the other admin and technical staff in our area and other IT staff in the university. We work with interesting people in a multicultural working environment - our staff and students come from places such as China, India, Iran, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Japan......at last count we had people from 18 different countries. My job is to make sure they have all the IT resources they need to do their research in nanotechnology, biomaterials, composites, polymers, fibres, textiles, metals, computer modelling, haptics, robotics, cancer, diabeties, materials for solar panels, lightweight materials for automobiles and aeroplanes, biomaterials for bone replacements and more. It's worthwhile research that I'm proud to have a small part in.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day
Guest Blogger: Barbara Boucher Owens, USA

Ada Lovelace Day is March 24, 2009

A movement to promote female role models in technology is underfoot and you can help. But first some background, most of which I gleaned from Betty Toole's marvelous biography, Ada, The Enchantress of Numbers, Prophet of the Computer Age.

Most women in computing have probably heard Augusta Ada Lovelace, (or Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace) referred to as the world's first programmer. The more I learn about Ada's remarkable life the more I am impressed by her intellectual acumen. Augusta Ada was born 10 December1815, the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron and his wife, Anne Isabella (Annabella) Milbanke, Lady Byron. Ada's mother left Lord Byron in January of 1816 and received full custody of Ada as she was thereafter known. Ada never had a significant relationship with her famous father, but when Ada Lovelace died at age 36 she was buried next to him at her own request.

Lady Byron insisted that 5-year old Ada be tutored from dawn to dusk, hoping her daughter would be a mathematician or scientist, not a poet like her father. At age thirteen Ada suffered from measles and was confined to bed for three years, but her mother insisted that her rigorous mathematical education continue. Her mother made sure that Ada met the major inventors and scientists of the day. At age 17 she and her mother met with Charles Babbage. Both Ada and her mother were enthralled by his plans for the Difference Engine, a mechanical calculating machine, dubbed a “Thinking Machine” by Annabella.. She began then a lifelong correspondence with Babbage. She at that time began her correspondence with Mary Somerville, an influential mathematician and astronomer of the time. With her she discussed her ideas about Babbage's work as well. Through her lifetime she corresponded with other luminaries such as Michael Faraday and Augustus de Morgan.

In 1835 she married William, Lord King who in 1838 became the Earl of Lovelace and she the Countess of Lovelace. In 1839 the young countess had given birth to three children, Byron, Annabella and Ralph. She like many women of the aristocracy, maintained three homes, supervised many servants and found it difficult to pursue her many intellectual interests.

Her mathematical studies progressed and she offered to aid Babbage. In 1843 Babbage had given a series of lectures on his Analytical Engine in Turin, Italy. An Italian engineer wrote an article summarizing the technical aspects of the Analytical Engine. Ada translated the article and added notes of her own. Babbage was impressed with these notes in which she put the Analytical Engine into a broader context. She viewed the potential of the machine as a general purpose device that could move beyond the processing of numbers into the processing of any information that could be represented symbolically. It was Babbage who gave Ada the sobriquet “Enchantress of Numbers”

Ada Lovelace died in 1851 following a common medical treatment, bloodletting, which was performed in an attempt to cure the cancer from which she was suffering. One of her last non-family visitors was Charles Dickens! Ada referred to her quest for knowledge as “Poetical Science” and her life is a beacon for us all.

The programing language Ada was named for her, and its 1995 reference manual is titled 1815, the year of her birth.

There are lots of intriguing sources about her life, ideas and family available. In addition to Tolle's biography, you might enjoy Woolley's The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason, and Byron's Daughter. I strongly recommend the biographic film To Dream Tomorrow. I haven't seen Conceiving Ada but seems like an interesting fictional piece. I enjoyed, Haunted Summer, a film about the travels of Lord Byron with Percy and Mary Shelley after separating from Annabella and Ada. The lovely little book, Scientists Anonymous by Patricia Fara has a short biography of Ada Lovelace, suitable for younger readers. Fara also contributed to a biographical piece on Ada broadcast on BBC.

Now to action. Ada Lovelace Day

If you're a blogger and happy to write/video/podcast about one of your female technology heroes on 24th March 2009, please do join us in supporting the following fantastic initiative from Suw Charman-Anderson and sign-up to the Ada Lovelace Day Pledge:

I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same. — Suw Charman-Anders

This entry is reposted from Barbara Boucher Owens' blog with her permission.